SPRINGFIELD - Former Gov. Dan Walker, who spent 18 months in federal prison, says today's Illinois officials are too lax on ethics.
Walker, who was in Springfield on Monday promoting his autobiography, was governor from 1973-77. He was sentenced in 1988 after being convicted of bank fraud and perjury. He committed those crimes after he was in office and served 18 months at a federal prison in Duluth, Minn.
On the matter of ethics Walker, 84, said mandates he signed to prevent state employees from raising political contributions were his greatest achievement as governor and have since been forgotten by lawmakers.
"That (order) applied directly to the roughly 70,000 employees in the departments and agencies under the governor, and I enforced it," he said. "No governor since then has had the guts to repeat that executive order. It disappeared the day that I left office, and no such mandate has existed since then."
The irony of a former prison inmate advocating for ethics was not lost on Walker, who nonetheless said he stands by his record while acting as Illinois' chief executive.
"I know that when people look at me and I talk about ethics, they think, some of them, 'What about you? What about you? You went to jail,'" he said. "I hope it will not totally obscure what I stood for, what I fought for when I was governor."
Walker gained fame as a political outsider who drummed up support for his gubernatorial bid by walking the length of Illinois during his campaign. Once in Springfield, his tenure was marked by combative relationships with the press and Chicago's Mayor Richard J. Daley, who Walker felt pushed the Windy City's agenda to the detriment of Southern Illinois.
"If I am to be remembered for anything other than that walk and fighting Mayor Daley … I hope it will be for those ethics mandates," he said. "That's what I am very, very proud of as governor."
Walker lives and works in San Diego now and says he keeps up with Illinois politics only by reading newspapers online.
Asked what he thought of the current legislative session in which lawmakers have failed to hammer out a budget or provide electric-rate relief, Walker said politics in Illinois is a "rotten system."
"But I don't believe that you can lie down and let that system run over you," he said.
"You can't accommodate it, because if you try to accommodate it, it will run over you."